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A lesson from comedian Natasha Leggero on the art of the non-apology
This is how it’s done, folks.
Shia LaBeouf, take note. After making a joke on NBC’s New Year’s Eve countdown about World War II veterans, comedian Natasha Leggero sparked Twitter backlash from viewers who were incensed by her one liner. But rather than offer up the standard mea culpa, Leggero took to her Tumblr to explain why she wasn’t apologetic—and it was by far the best “apology” the Internet has seen of late.
The incident began when host Carson Daly referenced SpaghettiOs’ Dec. 7 tweet in remembrance of Pearl Harbor: a cartoon SpaghettiO noodle holding an American flag with the caption, “Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us.” Leggero commented, “It sucks that that the only survivors of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew,” and thus opened the floodgates for the Internet lynch mob.
Hundreds of tweets were sent instantly by fans who felt that Leggero, a popular young comedian known for her appearances on Chelsea Lately, had crossed the line.
Natasha Leggero just made a joke about the SpaghettiOs Pearl Harbor tweet that was probably more offensive than the tweet itself.
— Craig Lloyd (@craig_lloyd) January 1, 2014
Who is Natasha Leggero and why was she given a platform to insult WWII veterans? What’s she done for her country? Real classy, @NBC.
— T.J. Conwell (@RevConwell) January 1, 2014
Amidst rising cries for an apology from both Leggero and NBC, as well as death threats, Leggero turned to her Tumblr on Friday, ostensibly to apologize. However, she eloquently explained why she wasn’t going to churn out an insincere apology simply because she was expected to.
“I wish I could apologize, but do you really want another insincere apology that you know is just an attempt at damage control and not a real admission of guilt? Let me just try instead to be honest.
“I’m not sorry. I don’t think the amazing courage of American veterans and specifically those who survived Pearl Harbor is in any way diminished by a comedian making a joke about dentures on television. Do we really believe that the people who fought and defended our freedom against Nazis and the Axis powers will find a joke about Spaghetti O’s too much to bear? Sorry, I have more respect for Veterans than to think their honor can be impugned by a glamorous, charming comedian in a fur hat.”
Leggero goes on to suggest that, as a daughter of a Vietnam veteran, she’s aware of the larger issues veterans face: PTSD, depression, inadequate care after active duty, among others. She urged readers on either side of the outrage to donate to the Disabled American Veterans foundation but ultimately stuck to her guns and refused to cave in.
Her comment, and the impending backlash, immediately drew comparisons to former IAC head of corporate communications Justin Sacco, who shot off a gauche tweet about AIDS in Africa, before boarding an 18-hour flight with no Internet access. The difference between Sacco and Leggero, however, isn’t simply that Leggero is a comedian and thus gets a free pass. Yes, comedians can get away with more boundary-pushing statements in the name of comedy, but at the end of the day, those jokes still have to be funny if they want to pass muster. Much like Sacco lost her job over her comments, if controversial comedians aren’t actually funny, you can bet they’re not getting plum touring gigs in small arenas, either.
Leggero’s refusal to cave, while still maintaining a certain sincerity (the likes of which certain celebrities like Shia LaBeouf know nothing of), is masterful, humble, but above all, honest.
Photo via CleftClips/Flickr
Beejoli Shah is a reporter and editor whose work focuses on entertainment, internet culture, and social justice. Her work has been published in Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan, Fusion, New York Magazine, the Guardian, and BuzzFeed, among others.